Frederick Taylor




I
do not think that many faculty members would challenge the notion that their
universities are run by people who are primarily managers and not academics.
At the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where I work, our administrators
have never been scholars and no more so than at present when the very titles
so common to academe have been changed to reflect the managerial and business
like role those who hold these titles are expected to play. We do not go to
the Dean’s office but to that of the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
As any management expert will
tell you, the essence of management is control, control over every aspect of
the enterprise. In most workplaces, the one element that can impede the
ability of management to control its domain is the human element. That is why
managerial control is essentially a matter of controlling the organization’s
employees, or to use a word that college teachers don’t like to hear, its
workers. Over the past 150 years or so, managers have devised a number of
techniques for managing (controlling) their employees. These techniques have
been theorized and systematized, first by Frederick Taylor, and many times
since by his disciples. It is possible to learn these techniques and the
theory behind them in business schools, seminars, and journals. We must have
no doubt that our administrators have studied the theory and practice of
managerial control and that they are busy applying what they have learned.


The most comprehensive system
of managerial control has been pioneered by Japanese automobile manufacturers
and is known to its critics as “lean production.” It is based on the twin
ideas that every aspect of work must be controlled to the greatest degree
possible and that the employees must be led to believe not only that this is
good for them but that they have some real say in directing their enterprise.
With our faculty senates and their ideology of shared governance, many of us
have already absorbed the second idea. The first idea is more radical, and
poorly understood by most of us.


The control over work is
necessary if management is to contain costs and enlarge the organization’s
surplus. There are many aspects to lean production, some of which need not
concern us, at least yet, because they are impossible, at least so far, to
apply to teachers. For example, the job of teaching college students is not as
susceptible as are most other jobs to Tayloristic time and motion studies.
(See historian David Noble’s article, “Digital Diploma Mills,” Monthly
Review,
February 1998, for evidence that this is being considered.) Nor is
the utilization of “just-in-time” inventory, an innovation in which a firm
keeps no stock on hand but rather has it delivered just as needed, usually by
an outside contractor. (Here again, the use of part-time teachers called on
just as needed, i.e., without advance notice, can be considered a form of
just-in-time.)


Those features of lean
production which are applicable to teaching are the detailed division of
labor, systematic hiring, stressing the system (what the Japanese call
“kaizen” or constant improvement), and mechanization. The use of the
division of labor is based on the “Babbage principle” after the
mathematician and entrepreneur, Charles Babbage (inventor of the first
computer). The idea is to substitute lesser skilled (cheaper) labor for
skilled (more expensive) labor whenever possible. This we see being done with
a vengeance with the proliferation of part-time, temporary, non-tenure, and
graduate student instructors. As more expensive faculty retire or leave, they
will be replaced whenever possible with cheaper and less secure people. For
example, it makes no sense to managers that I teach two sections of
Introduction to Economics, a course that, from their point of view, can be
taught by anyone minimally qualified. So when I leave my university, I will
likely be replaced with part-time faculty. The other courses I teach can
either be dropped, or if needed, taught by other part-timers or shifted to the
remaining teachers on an overload basis.


Systematic hiring fits in
nicely with the Babbage principle. The idea is to hire people who can be
easily controlled. Of course, most new teachers do not have to be controlled
since they have already learned that they must behave themselves if they want
to get tenure (this, in turn, is partly a function of the glut of new teachers
brought about by the use of part-timers, temporaries, etc.). Over the past 20
years at my campus, not a single new faculty member has become an active
dissident; few have been willing to take even the smallest risk. The
part-timers and other contingent teachers are, almost by definition, so
insecure that they will seldom rock the boat, no matter what an administration
does.


The two most important
control mechanisms, in my view, are the stress now being placed on our system
and mechanization in the form of computers. On an automobile assembly line,
stress is delivered by speeding up the line, reducing the amount of materials
available to workers, or taking a person off the line. Sooner or later, a
bottleneck appears along the line, indicated by flashing lights. Then
management focuses attention on the trouble spot and the workers, usually
grouped into teams, are expected to solve the problem, but without the stress
being removed. When they solve the problem (by working faster, for example),
management has gained a reduction in unit cost. In the colleges and
universities, the stress takes the form of recurring budget cuts (these are
usually blamed by our employers on outside forces, such as state legislatures,
but they are really the result of their own plans). We are then expected to
continue to teach an increasing number of students with fewer resources. We
are encouraged to believe that we must all pull together to get through the
crisis, though a minute’s reflection would tell us that the crisis is
permanent and has already consumed most of our work lives and that we suffer
(as do all of the other workers in academe, such as secretaries, maintenance
and custodial, and food service employees) disproportionately to the top
administrators who continue to draw the largest salaries and whose staffs
continue to grow. We “alleviate” the stress by teaching more overloads,
doing more class preparation, agreeing to larger class sizes, foregoing
sabbaticals, never asking for release time, paying for our own conference
trips, making fewer copies of articles, concurring with the hiring of more
part-timers and temporary instructors, and so forth.


The electronic revolution
confronts us with the most extreme assault on our traditional patterns of
work. The future will see more and more distance education, the cloning of
lectures captured on video and sent out over the web, the forcing of faculty
to put their courses online, increased electronic monitoring of faculty
effort, and other such methods of substituting capital for labor. Teaching as
traditionally practiced is labor intensive and the labor is not especially
cheap. These facts are inimical to sound business practice, so the obvious
remedy is to replace us with machines, the prices of which have been falling
for quite awhile. As David Noble puts it: “Educom, the academic-corporate
consortium, has recently established their Learning Infrastructure Initiative
which includes the detailed study of what professors do, breaking the faculty
job down in classic Tayloristic fashion into discrete tasks, and determining
what parts can be automated or outsourced. Educom believes that course design,
lectures, and even evaluation can all be standardized, mechanized, and
consigned to outside commercial vendors. ‘Today you’re looking at a highly
personal human mediated environment,’ Educom president Robert Heterich
observed. ‘The potential to remove the human mediation in some areas and
replace it with automation-smart, computer-based, network-based systems is
tremendous. It’s gotta happen’.”


It is reasonable to ask why
all of this is happening. The proliferation of administrative staff, the
extraordinarily high salaries paid to top administrators and research faculty,
the tremendous expansion of buildings, laboratories, and computing equipment
at universities around the country suggest that it is not a true financial
crisis which is to blame. Rather, I think that the universities have become
centers of accumulation, or, to put it more bluntly, places in which a lot of
money can be made. Universities today are more concerned about generating
patentable research, often the basis for spin-off businesses owned by
researchers and administrators, and the corresponding alliance with private
corporations (which supply computer software and hardware, purchase the
patentable research, form partnerships with researchers and administrators,
and supply employment for the higher ups in the academy when they leave
academe) than with anything else.


It may seem heretical to say
it, but most universities have no sincere commitment whatever to the education
of undergraduates. If they did, they would not be employing the lean
production techniques outlined above, all of which are harmful to the
“production” of educated human beings. If, for example, my university
cared, it would not be implementing a system of “differential teaching” in
which those who don’t publish enough or bring in enough grants will be
punished by being forced to teach more. If it cared, it would not allow
professors to “buy back” their courses by hiring part-timers to teach
them. (I was once hired to teach a course at the central campus by a professor
who literally begged me to do it and who had never previously met me and knew
nothing about my background.)


Undergraduates are a major
source of the large sums of money needed to convert the university from a
school into a business. These expenses are the main reason why tuitions have
risen by a much greater percentage than have prices for so many years. Now
that further tuition increases are getting difficult to sustain, the
universities are coming after us, ruthlessly cutting the cost of instruction
and pressuring us to work harder. (I should note that some money has to be
spent on students, mainly to entertain them. In addition, students must be led
to believe that their “education” is the reason why their wages will be
higher after graduation than they would have been had they not gone to
college. It really makes no difference to the university and, sad to say, to
many students, whether they learn anything or not.)


In the face of what is
essentially an attack on the craft of teaching, the reactions of the teachers
have been remarkably passive. Some of us keep our heads firmly in the sand; a
few of us have actually become cheerleaders for lean production. A friend of
mine and I gave a talk at a conference on education and technology. In it, we
pointed out the potential downside of things such as distance learning. Our
presentation was met with derisive attacks from academics that believed that
the electronic revolution was, by definition, a good thing. They could not
grasp that technology is always embedded in a system of social relationships
and that, in a capitalist society, technology can and will be used to control
workers. There are even teachers who argue that tenure may not be a good
thing, or that the downsizing of the universities may be a blessing in
disguise because it will give us a chance to weed out superfluous departments
and programs.


At my college, many teachers
seem to believe that there are good and bad administrators; if we could just
get rid of the bad ones, our problems would disappear. They fail to understand
that all administrators are firmly positioned in the corporate hierarchies
that are implementing all of these policies. They do not act in our interests
because they cannot do so and keep their jobs. If our administrators were
really on our side, they would understand that in a war, the generals have to
do more than make private pleas. They have to rouse the troops to action. If
our branch campus wanted more money from the central university, our
administrators would try to put enough pressure on the university to get it.
They would mobilize faculty, staff, and students to write letters, send
emails, march and demonstrate in Pittsburgh and the state capitol, Harrisburg,
raise a fuss in public meetings, and other such direct actions until the
university capitulated. But, of course, this is unimaginable. No matter how
odious our administrators might think a particular university decision is they
always go along. They know who butters their bread. The university has decided
to try to break the union of maintenance and custodial workers at my campus
over pathetically small sums of money (to the university, though not to the
financially strapped and hardworking employees), a truly rotten thing to do,
but not so awful that any of our administrators would take a public stand
against it.


Probably the most common
faculty response is cynicism. We distance ourselves from our colleges and
refuse to participate much in their affairs. This is an understandable
response; after all, the crisis forced on us causes a lot of pain and anguish.
But even as we are cynical, we do continue to solve the pressures created by
the continued stressing of our system. We do give up our sabbaticals; we do
teach larger classes; we do pile on the overtime; we do not challenge our
employers when they tell us there is no money for anything; we act as if it is
impossible to do anything about the shrinking of the tenure stream faculty. We
could resist but we do not.


What is worse, the very
accommodations we now make to lean production prepare our work for its final
mechanized degradation. There are plenty of studies purporting to show that,
in terms of narrowly defined competencies, distance learning yields the same
results as classroom teaching. As we allow our work to be stressed, we
inevitably begin to take shortcuts (less writing, more “objective” tests,
less rigor, greater willingness to agree to the elimination of low enrollment
programs in difficult subjects, etc.) to ease the stress. But as we do this,
we make the learning experience more amenable to replication through
electronic means. Administrators will then say, with some truth, that we might
as well put our product on the Internet. It is a lot cheaper and the results
are the same. Of course, this will be accompanied with a lot of hype about how
electronic education allows the schools to tailor schooling to the exact needs
of individual students and to serve constituencies who otherwise could not go
to school. But this will be propaganda masking the true motive: raising large
revenues with minimum costs.


In the end, our only hope is
to organize ourselves, both at our workplaces and with teachers around the
world. Some teachers, including graduate students, have done this, but the
resulting unions have been rather tepid examples of what is needed, namely
militant organizations aimed at taking control of the schools so that they can
serve the majority of people, creatively and equally. Unfortunately, for most
faculty, any type of formal organizing is too big a step to take immediately.
So, in the short term, perhaps we can do some things to show our employers
that we know what is going on and that we do not like it. First, we can begin
to speak out in meetings and in private conversations. When administrators say
something ridiculous or simpleminded, we must challenge them. We can challenge
administrative policies with speeches, with letters, with petitions, with
emails, to them, to the media, to politicians, to board members, any way we
can.


Second, we can refuse to
participate in our own demise. We can insist on our leaves and let the
university turn us down. (At my college, we just received a memo canceling all
sabbaticals for next year. So much for collegiality on this matter.) We can
appeal the decision and make it public. We can refuse to teach overload. We
can refuse to give up our syllabi and to put our courses on line. We can
resist any administrative prying into our classrooms. We can, at least if we
are tenured, refuse to give student evaluations; if we do give them, we can
refuse to show them to any administrator. These can only be used against us,
as is also the case for the teaching and research dossiers teachers are now
commonly required to furnish each year to their supervisors. We can refuse to
serve on committees, including those that hire new faculty members, unless
these are going to be given real authority. Third, we can offer our support to
any group on campus, such as students or other employees, who are resisting
being sacrificial lambs. If we are going to protest what is happening to us,
we had better realize that we will need the support of others and to get this,
we must give unconditional encouragement and aid to working people on and off
the campus.


Perhaps the cynics are right
and nothing will come of any efforts we make on our own behalf. I do not
believe this, and the history of resistance movements tells me that it is not
true. But even if we accomplish little, at least we will stop living on our
knees.      Z